NIAGARA, N.Y. — Next weekend is the final College Hockey America Tournament.
One could scoff that there are only four teams in the league, but as the old adage goes, anybody can beat anybody in a single game.
In the latest chapter of this final CHA story, Egor Mironov scored twice and Chris Noonan made 28 saves as Niagara completed a weekend sweep of College Hockey America rival Robert Morris with a 4-2 victory in front of 1,077 at Dwyer Arena on Saturday.
Niagara, which finished 6-10-2 in CHA play and 11-19-4 overall, did win its last two games and four of its last five to finish with a well-timed ascension. In the CHA, the Purple Eagles and Alabama-Huntsville tied with 14 points. The Chargers clinched third in a 2-2 tie with Bemidji St. earlier on Saturday.
The resilient Chargers, who will reportedly play as an independent club next season, finished third in the tiebreaker because of an edge in the head-to-head series with Niagara.
The first round of the final CHA Tournament pits Robert Morris against UAH on Friday at 3 p.m. The fourth-seeded Purple Eagles then play top-seed Bemidji St. at 7 p.m.
This upcoming weekend, maybe, could be a wild one.
The consolation game is set for 3 p.m. on Saturday with the championship facing-off at 8 p.m.
On paper, Bemidji should win the tourney — clearly they are the best club — and arguably by a substantial margin, but in a one-game winner takes all situation, one never knows.
“I think any team in this league can beat anybody on a given night,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “It is going to come down to next weekend, who makes the fewest mistakes, who comes ready to play and who does everything it takes to be successful.”
The Purple Eagles don’t have a good record, but have been very good lately.
The Beavers, who won five of six against Niagara this season and outscored it 28-16, are the defending CHA champions and the nation’s No.8 team. Bemidji finished 14-3-1 in league play and 23-8-3 overall.
“Absolutely,” Mironov said if his club was confident about facing Bemidji St. “In hockey, playoffs are what matters. If you make it, who knows what happens? It’s hockey. The team that is going to fight the most and want to win the most is going to win the playoffs.
“I felt this weekend, and all week of practice, we have been building and building. This weekend shows we are calm and confident. We are ready for anybody, and the guys in the room are excited.”
On Saturday, Niagara took control in the first period and was never in trouble after that.
The Purple Eagles outshot the Colonials 13-7 and took a 2-0 lead on Gotto and Giancarlo Iuorio goals just over six minutes apart in a rare instance (at home at least) this season where they thoroughly dominated an opponent.
Mironov upped Niagara’s lead to 3-0 with a laser snap shot past RMU goaltender Brooks Ostergard (who was pulled after the goal) at 7:12 of the second period.
The Colonials could easily have quit, but did not. They pulled to within 3-1 at 10:18 when Stefan Salituro lifted a shot from close range over Noonan’s glove. While Niagara sagged noticeably, RMU surged and controlled play for the rest of the period.
In the third period, Mironov scored again at 5:29 for a 4-1 lead before Salituro beat Noonan to make it 4-2 with just 2:35 left.
“I thought we dictated the pace five-on-five for most of the night,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “The only momentum they had the whole night came in the second period off of bad penalties we took.”